Boys prep hoops: NE8 PREVIEW
There’s no clear-cut favorite in the Northeast 8 Conference boys basketball race, and no team likely to go through the league undefeated as Huntington North did a year ago.
“Huntington graduated quite a bit, but they’re well-coached so they’ll be good again,” Leo coach Cary Cogdell said. “Everybody else seems to have a significant amount of scoring back from a year ago. I think the conference has a ton of depth this season.”
The News-Sentinel’s predicted order of finish:
1. NEW HAVEN
The Bulldogs hope to build around the defensive tenacity of senior James Gardner and the offensive capabilities of senior Brecar Clark, the two starters back from last season’s 19-8 team.
Gardner, a 6-foot-1 forward who also excels in football, nearly always ends with the task of guarding the opponent’s best player. He’ll also be expected to increase his scoring. He averaged 10 points, six rebounds and five assists per game last season. Clark, a 6-2 guard, averaged 12 points and three assists per game.
Six-foot senior guard Damario Robinson will take over at the point guard spot after substantial playing time last season. Other players who will join in the mix include 6-3 senior forward Davion Harris, 6-3 senior wing Zach Latham and sophomore Donovynn Sisson. Zel Banks, Diquan Meriwether, Kentrel Thomas and Thomas Latham are also expected to see significant time. Newcomer Antwone Washington, a 6-5 muscle man, could be a valuable addition to the inside game.
The Knights surprised some with a 14-11 record in coach Mike McBride’s first season at Norwell, so expectations will be even higher this time around.
Norwell returns 25 points per game from last year’s team in 6-4 sophomore forward Will Geiger (13 ppg, 9 rpg) and 6-1 senior guard Cole Wilson (12.1 ppg). Two other players with significant experience from a year ago are 6-7 senior Brandon Nicholson and 6-1 senior Luke Zeddis.
“Our biggest surprise is the progression of Nicholson,” McBride said. “He’s grown two inches, slimmed down and his physical conditioning has improved. His skill level has improved too, so he and Geiger are going to be a pretty formidable duo down inside.”
The Knights expect 6-1 sophomore guard Connor Torson to take over as the point guard and other newcomers include 5-8 junior guard Levi Leidig (who missed last season with a knee injury), 6-2 junior forward Kyle Henschen and 6-foot sophomore forward Quinton Purdy.
3. EAST NOBLE
The Knights return one of the most experienced teams in the NE8, sporting several players who saw significant playing time for the 12-11 team of a year ago.
Six-foot sophomore guard Hayden Jones leads the way after averaging 10 points, five rebounds and five assists per game a year ago. He’s joined by 6-7 junior guard/forward Ali Ali (5 ppg, 3 apg), 6-4 senior forward Drew Devers (7 ppg), 6-3 junior forward Michael Bender, 6-3 senior forward Scooby Robinson and 6-6 junior forward/center Brent Cox.
Newcomers include 6-1 senior forward Lucas Platt, 5-11 sophomore guard Nate Dickson and 5-9 sophomore guard Michael Klein.
“While we still have some youth, the majority of our guys are back from last year and a lot of them have varsity experience, which is huge,” coach Ryan Eakins said. “We should be good enough to compete in every single game we play. We have to be able to execute down the stretch. We lost a number of games by one possession last year.”
4. HUNTINGTON NORTH
The defending NE8 champs lost top player Hunter Hollowell to graduation and will need to find some scoring to be back in the hunt this season.
Five-foot-10 junior guard Zach Daugherty is the leading returning scorer with 7.0 points per game and he’s joined by 6-2 senior forward Mitchell Geller (5.0 ppg) and 5-10 senior guard Joe Stoffel.
Among the bevy of newcomers to the varsity are 6-4 junior forward Sawyer Stoltz, 6-2 junior forward Hank Pulver, 5-11 junior guard Trey Williams, 5-8 junior guard Keegan Bartrom and 5-8 sophomore guard Deven Newcomb.
“Huntington North was the hardest team to play against defensively and most likely that’ll be the case again,” East Noble coach Ryan Eakins said. “They always do a really good job of guarding the ball.”
The Lions hope to return to conference contention with a senior-oriented team led by top scorer Jeremy Davison, a 6-foot-1 senior who led the team in scoring a year ago, averaging 14.6 points per game. He also averaged 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
Davison will be joined by 6-4 senior Lane Reed (8.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg), 6-4 senior Luke Stoller (6.2 ppg), 6-1 senior Jacob Coohan and 5-11 junior Aaron Kimball.
“Having four seniors is a great place to start,” coach Cary Cogdell said. “We’re expecting a lot of leadership Lane and Jeremy. We lost three starters (to graduation) so we have some spots to fill, but I think we have some good players to fill those spots.”
Davison is more versatile on offense than some give him credit for, Cogdell said.
“He can shoot it, but I don’t feel like he’s just a shooter,” Cogdell said. “He can do a little more than that. He’s stronger, and more confident now, and I think you’ll see him drive and penetrate more than a year ago.”
6. COLUMBIA CITY
Mitchell Wilson, a 5-10 sophomore guard, returns as the leading scorer for the Eagles after averaging 11 points and 2.7 assists per game last season. He’ll be joined by 6-1 senior guard Garrett Roehling (4.1 ppg), 6-1 senior guard/forward Ethan Christen and 6-5 senior forward Trent Simmons.
Newcomers include 6-3 junior Cam Scott and three sophomores: 6-2 guard/forward Michael Sievers, 5-9 guard Max Bedwell and 6-5 forward Dillon Sheiss.
The Eagles were 13-14 in coach Brett Eberly’s first season in 2016-17.
The Barons return one of the NE8’s top scorers in 6-3 senior guard Logan Kruse, who averaged 18 points per game last season. He’ll be joined by 6-3 senior guard/forward Isaac Brown, who averaged 12 points and five rebounds per game.
“It’s always nice when you can come back with the majority of your scoring back,” second-year coach Rod Cone said.
Other returners with experience are 6-2 senior guard/forward Boon Bacon and 6-2 junior guard/forward Dalton Smith.
Kruse, Smith and Bacon can all play point guard, giving the Barons versatility and the ability to mix up their lineup.
Newcomers to watch include 6-5 senior forward Jonah Webb, 6-3 junior forward Kyle Dunham, 6-1 junior forward Jon Bell and 6-foot freshman guard Cole Richmond.
“I hope our strength is in the returners and camaraderie we developed and the culture we developed in the offseason,” Cone said. “There’s not any one player that will necessarily take over a game, but we have plenty of players who can step up for us.”
New coach Jonathon Fuelling, a Bellmont alum, hopes to revitalize the program with enthusiasm and an emphasis on fundamentals. Fuelling previously worked as an assistant to Chris Benedict at Columbia City and spent six years as head girls coach at Heritage.
The top returning scorers are 6-4 junior guard/forward Jordan Fuelling (no relation to the coach), who averaged 9.2 points per game last season, and 6-foot junior guard Brady Manis, who averaged 8.3 points and two assists per game. They’re joined by 6-4 junior forward Aaron Lehrman (4.5 ppg), 5-11 senior guard Oliver Gehres (6.0 ppg) and 5-9 junior guard Payton Boyd (4.3 ppg). One key newcomer will be 6-4 sophomore forward Kade Fuelling, who is the coach’s son.
“We return about 95 percent of our scoring, and we return a lot of bumps and bruises from a bunch of sophomores that played and got a lot of varsity experience,” Fuelling said.
Bellmont finished 4-19 last season and winless in the NE8. The Braves haven’t finished at .500 or better since they were 24-3 in 2004-05.
MVP: James Gardner, New Haven
Best shooter: Jeremy Davison, Leo
Best post player: Will Geiger, Norwell
Best defender: James Gardner, New Haven
Best passer: Hayden Jones, East Noble
Best intangible player: Logan Kruse, DeKalb